10:46pm PT by Kimberly Nordyke
John Oliver Calls WWE "Morally Subterranean," Slams Vince McMahon Over Wrestlers' Health Issues
A week before Wrestlemania, John Oliver took on the WWE on Sunday's episode of his HBO late-night show, Last Week Tonight.
During his main story segment, he went on a lengthy rant against the organization for what he argued was a lack of concern about its athletes' health and long-term health care.
He showed a montage of clips featuring wrestlers who've died at a relatively young age, including Eddie Guerrero (age 38), Randy "Macho Man" Savage (58), Chyna (46) and "King Kong" Bundy (61). Oliver presented data that shows that wrestlers die at a young age at a higher rate than NFL players.
He talked about how WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon has a monopoly over professional wrestling — citing data noting that the organization made $930.2 million in revenue last year and is ranked at No. 6 among the most valuable sports brands (the World Series is No. 10) — and showed a clip of a sketch comedy in which McMahon used the N-word as a joke that went over like a lead balloon.
"While the character Vince is an asshole, it's important to know that the real Vince is also an asshole," Oliver said. "Many fans legitimately hate him because while the WWE has made him a billionaire, many wrestlers say he's treated him terribly."
McMahon has "shielded himself from responsibility for his wrestlers' welfare" by keeping them as independent contractors — not full-time employees — while making them sign exclusive, long-term contracts that don't allow them to work for any other organization. They also don't qualify for annual paid leave, pensions or health insurance benefits.
"Maybe when wrestlers might work years ago for multiple, different [wrestling] organizations, it made sense to call them contractors," he said. "But now that WWE has a choke hold on this industry, it makes just as much sense to call them that as it does to call Jimmy Carter a 'panty-dropping fuck machine.' It’s just clearly not true, anymore."
Oliver also noted that there is no off-season in which wrestlers are able to recover and argued that the WWE doesn't provide for wrestlers' long-term health care, showing clips of many who were not able to pay for much-needed procedures.
"Even the NFL, for all its massive faults, now offers players health reimbursement accounts and have established a legacy fund for older players who may be dealing with health issues," Oliver said. "And when you have lost the moral high ground to the fucking NFL, you are morally subterranean." (The WWE responded to Oliver on Monday; read the organization's statement here.)
It's not the first time Oliver has taken on the WWE. In October, he slammed the organization for its pact with Saudi Arabia after the sudden disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of its government.